Real men don’t cry. At least that’s what I believed growing up. Now I know it’s the opposite that’s true.
I grew up watching a lot of black and white cowboy movies on Saturday morning television. Jeez I’m old. But hey they weren’t all that bad and to be fair we only had three channels to choose from.
I’ll never forget the master-class in stoicism from Gary Cooper in High Noon. Heading off alone to face almost certain death while Grace Kelly watched and wept. I swear his face never cracked throughout the entire film. At least that’s how I remember it.
In the 80’s we had Arnie, Sly and Jean-Claude remaining emotionless as they waded through armies of bad guys. I’m sure it was the script and not limited acting ability, but the point is Rambo didn’t cry, he got even! That said I vaguely remember Jean-Claude being expressive on occasion. Then again he did the splits a lot!
The overriding message was ‘boys don’t cry’ and any display of weakness in the playground was a green light for bullies.
Progressing into adulthood, and the competitive or downright hostile work environments that most of us contend with means it’s no wonder emotions are buried deeper still. When self-protection is key and the urge to express oneself is constantly suppressed, it’s inevitable that we subsequently find it difficult to connect with others.
Then we discover the joys of parenthood and without warning find ourselves riding a tsunami of feelings that threaten to overwhelm us. Seeing your child for the first time opens a floodgate you never realised you were trying so hard to hold back.
You’d die for them, kill to protect them, above all be strong for them. Heaven forbid you have a son and you’re duty bound to set him on the same path you once trod. A lifetime of hiding any kind of emotion that might shatter the illusion that you’re anything other than the epitome of masculinity.
A parent’s need to protect is all-consuming, and once more we pull up that emotional drawbridge as we guide our little ones towards eventual self-sufficiency. Of course we express our love and all the positive stuff, but we can’t afford to ever shed a tear and show weakness, it’s not what we do dammit!
It’s so hypocritical too when we wipe away their tears and tell them everything’s OK. Encouraging them to ‘let it all out’ while only giving in to our own sadness in private. It’s surely a mixed message when their tears become a sign that they’re still tethered to childhood, when in fact they’re only a by-product of a healthy emotional release.
I think the more enlightened parent is the one who isn’t afraid to show cracks in their armour and expose their more vulnerable side.
I’m not talking about adopting the foetal position and bawling your lungs out. After all we still have a duty to demonstrate how to overcome problems, and becoming a quivering wreck isn’t perhaps the best illustration. Just ditch the way of thinking that says your kids can never see you cry.
It’s such a healthy shift in dynamic when your kids are able to see that tears don’t equal weakness, and that you too well-up when something means so much to you. I can’t remember the first time my son saw me cry. He always knew it was OK if he did, but it’s such a bonding experience when something affects the two of you so much that you just let go together, bonded by emotion.
It’s a fantastic life lesson to let your kids see that you’re not invulnerable, that you too struggle from time to time but ultimately triumph. The caveat being that you take account of their age, and only show what they’re emotionally capable of processing. You can reveal more as they get older.
I’m still not one for crying, but I hide it less now. It’s not uncommon any more for my eyes to get somewhat dewy when I’m happy. It’s heart warming to see my son looking back at me with a knowing smile on his face. He knows I’m a total softy, and that’s fine because he’s one too. I’m happy I was able to help him embrace that side of himself; he snagged a wonderful girl in no small part because of his emotional availability.
The last time I got proper weepy, we were watching ‘The Road’. It’s a film about a father’s struggle to look after his son in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s a bit bloody grim but it has such an uplifting and hopeful ending. I guess it’s because the focus is upon a father’s complete and utter love for his son, but I always end up blubbing at the end. Can’t help it.
This time, as I felt the floodgates open, I looked over at my son who was busy mopping his own eyes. “You got something in your eye? Yeah me too.” Busted!
Check out 20 Lessons Every Son Must Learn